Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t have a dream.

I mean no disrespect with that statement, but it’s true.

He had hope.

That distinction is important and one to which I was only recently introduced while coffee potting my way through a research paper for grad school.

Bonny Norton and Farah Kamal write that in his book, Teaching Against the Grain, Roger Simon “draws the distinction between ‘wishes,’ in which there is no possibility for action, and ‘hope,’ in which action becomes central in the fulfillment of desire.”

Dreams are wild fancies and involuntary visions in which, at most, you can only observe yourself participating, but hope is tied to the belief that change is possible—inevitable—through collective and conscious action. To be hopeful is to be expectant… This will happen.

Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t have a dream; he had hope. He took action. It is up to us to ensure that fight against injustice remains a sustainable movement.

Crazy beautiful

Now that my mind is officially numb to every British television series on Netflix, all household items have been tested for sledding potential, and my re-entry to high school is on an indefinite hiatus, I’d like to dedicate this blog post to the Ice Queen in all of our lives. You know her best as Mother Nature.

Atlanta has been a bit of a Twilight Zone this week. With more than 500,000 residents and 10 snow plows, it doesn’t take flashbacks to my fall semester of starting every morning with a kindergarten dance to The Number Rock to do the math: People have gone crazy.

They’ve abandoned their cars to help push others over hills and on to their destinations.

They’ve forgone television to play cards by the fire or build snow forts and playfully pummel neighbors.

They’ve walked slowly through the streets and actually taken in their surroundings instead of road-raging through the quickest routes that Tom-Tom will take them.

They’ve dressed for the elements instead of for each other.

They’ve paused because there’s nothing else they can do.

They’ve given thanks for the warmth they know isn’t available to all and perhaps even acknowledged the injustice of that and taken steps to change it.

A friend recently posted, “Say what you will about us, Northerners, but there is something humbling about not being able to beat Mother Nature.” I love that southern-fried piece of wisdom and know it applies to more than just this region and level of precipitation.

Across the globe, my favorite Aussie is working to clean up the homes and businesses of fellow Brisbaners who have been blindsided by the flooding in Queensland. She, too, has been a witness to the beautiful madness that the weather is capable of inspiring in us when it seems we’ve grown indifferent to the stories, statistics, and images that already should have moved us to act with compassion and urgency.

I’m not saying we should be nostalgic about natural disasters, but this week has been a good reminder to be mindful of our true status in the scheme of things. We’re specks who are capable of as much good or bad as we want when we choose to amass or disband in the face of adversity.

Crazy can be beautiful, and I mean that in a non-Kirsten Dunst kind of way.

Stop the spinning

When a barrage of status updates, text messages, and holiday cards with families dressed alike were sent out last Friday to herald the arrival of 2011, one post by a friend stood out in particular. He relayed: “January – Janus – Janus is the Roman god of gates and doors, beginnings and endings, and hence represented with a double-faced head, each looking in opposite directions.”

The visual that this bit of mythology inspired seemed appropriate at the time, as it helped explain why I was feeling a lot like Linda Blair from the Exorcist… trying to get a hold of my crazy, spinning head and having trouble knowing exactly where to focus: Should I take stock of what happened in 2010 or list my hopes for the 365 days ahead? How am I supposed to beat Laurel at a game of Scrabble when I repel tiles with vowel letters? Did that first grade teacher really just ask me if I’m 17 years old? Natalie Portman is pregnant?!

Between mental rants, I expressed my frustration over the build-up and pressure that talk of the New Year brings with one of my best friends via Skype. Instead of feeling a sense of possibility and promise, I told her I felt stressed about finding the perfect way to ring in 2011, ready to get through the weekend, and guilty for my inability to get past this funk. This is what she wrote to me: “It’s okay to tell it like it is, however it is… really, it’s all we’ve got time for.”

And last night, as if being visited by a third Ghost of New Year’s, this Scrooge had the good fortune of dining with one of my favorite couples, who among many other reasons are most recently amazing for gifting each other stilts for Christmas. Jill, who is an ICU nurse, talked about how we can be so oblivious to the remarkable things happening within, to, and around us when we’re busy thinking about the past, worrying and planning for the future, or numb to the present. One moment in time holds so much power and can mean so many different things to a host of people and “we’re just not grateful enough,” she said, “for any of it.”

Perhaps that’s not a new thought, but it’s still a beautiful one… especially when set to pictures. Here’s to a year ahead full of MOMENTS and WORDS and to having the curiosity and compassion to find out what they mean to each of us. Check out these videos: 

Are You There God? It’s Me, Mo. (And other notes from the Bible Belt)

Aside from mounting student loan debt, a revived love for vending machine coffee, and a free pass to use words like “prolific,” my status as a grad student afforded me the chance to unearth old diaries from my parents’ attic over the holidays. The time travel experience was sponsored in part by the southern equivalent of a snowstorm and a desire to remember the days before 21st century kindnesses like  “delete post” and “remove tag.”

In addition to discovering a letter I composed to the president using only Bette Midler lyrics, as well as copious sketches of George Burns and Groucho Marx, I had the pleasure of remembering that my tales of a sixth grade nothing were not directed to recipients like “Dear Diary” or “Dear Abby” but to “Dear God.” As evidenced by an entry dated June 1994, my middle school exchanges with the Deity were as awkward as lunchroom conversations with the popular crowd:

Dear God,


Hey! It’s doubting Maureen!! OK, so that isn’t funny. Sorry. … So here’s the deal. If I keep my end of the bargain up, then you work in my heart.

Until next time,



The few times I wasn’t writing like a bookie to the Big Kahuna, I made brief departures to record vastly important entries such as this one in a notebook from 1995:

Dear Journal,

So, it’s like 1:40 a.m. and of all the times in the world, I can’t go to bed w/o writing something…


Are you ready for what had me sleepless in South Carolina?

I just finished watching this great movie called Sabrina. It sounds superficial, but I wish that some fashion-sensible, makeup know-how person would come along and transform me like Sabrina was. I wish I could know what makeup and clothes to wear to look attractive, but CLASSY and FASHIONABLE. For now I’ll just keep writing and dreaming.


Until next time,




Snowstorms and school breaks aside, the other reason I decided to search for my pre-teen confessions was due to learning about Mortified, a project that began in the late ’90s “in pursuit of personal redemption through public humiliation.” Adults, from amateurs to professional performers, use the stage, the page, and the web to “share their most embarrassing adolescent journals, letters, poems, lyrics, plays, home movies and art in order to reveal stories about their lives.”

It’s fantastic… and not because awkward is lamented, but C E L E B R A T E D.

Before flipping through the pages of my past, I anticipated giving thangst for growing older, wiser, and ever-so-slightly less dramatic. In truth, though, it made me miss the urgency and honesty with which I moved through childhood and adolescence… how I wrote and loved and lived and didn’t feel the need to self-edit. As adults, we might have a lot of things to be mortified by or ashamed of, but out of the mouths of babes? Fuhgeddaboudit.

Spoiler Alert

For Robert Earl Keen, it’s margaritas when the eggnog’s gone, carved turkey and a ball game on, but for my family, there is no Feliz Navidad until we’ve seen one of the worst movies of the year together.

I’m sure you remember Haley Joel Osment and his ability to see dead people, but maybe you didn’t have the holiday pleasure of seeing A.I. (also known as Artificial Intelligence), in which the creepiest kid before Dakota Fanning played a sci-fi Pinocchio of sorts, hoping to become real to win the love of his human mother. The only other thing you need to know about the movie is that the cast also included Jude Law, who played a robot male prostitute named Gigolo Joe. Now that was a Silent Night.

The following year, we tried and failed again with Solaris. The film had all the makings of a perfect comedy—George Clooney playing a psychiatrist in space—except it was a drama/romance. The best line of the movie, spoken by “Friend #1,” was, “The pope is a wonderful woman!”

This week, the impressively unintentional family tradition continued with How Do You Know. I’m not the biggest fan of Reese Witherspoon, but I had high hopes for a reel with Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, and Jack Nicholson sharing screen time. Unfortunately, the movie starred Witherspoon as an Olympic softball player who has just been cut from Team USA. The plot revolves around what she’s going to do with her life, her chief decision being whether to date a major-league douchebag/baseball player or anxiety-ridden corporate executive who has just been indicted. I’d like to say my family didn’t know these details beforehand, but in our defense, the holidays put us in unusually good/generous spirits. That said, to spare you the exorbitant cost of a movie ticket and two hours of your life, I’m going to reveal the one redeeming part of the film that was worth seeing with or without Raisinets.

For the ex-softball player’s 30-something birthday, Rudd’s character follows Owen Wilson’s gift of a diamond watch with Play-Doh, the (true) history of which turns out to be even more endearing than its smell. He explains how the substance was originally used to clean wallpaper but this particular need for the product grew obsolete after the introduction of vinyl. The company’s owner, Joe McVicker, who was 25 years old and dying of cancer at the time, needed to think fast to keep his family’s business from going under. Around Christmas 1954, McVicker’s sister-in-law comes up with the idea to make ornaments with her preschool students using the doughlike material. The company followed suit, removed the detergents, added color and an almond fragrance, and one of the most beloved toy products of the 20th century was born. Witherspoon’s character, unsure of her connection to the modeling clay, finally absorbs the point of Rudd’s gift when he says, “We’re all just one small adjustment from making our lives work.”

Admittedly, I teared up at the end of Toy Story 3 and immediately change the channel when Sarah McLachlan’s ASPCA commercial comes on, but what’s not engrossing about the reminder that who we are is enough? The right “ingredients” are in place; sometimes we just need a shift in attitude, time, company, or direction for our passion and purpose to be realized and put into motion with who we’ve always been and what we’ve always had.

Feliz Navidad.

Dreams vs. Reality

DREAM ACT by Santiago Uceda

Waking up the morning after the Senate’s vote to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” felt a lot like the time I woke up to discover that I, in my adult beverage-inspired genius, had chosen to use textbooks to soak up spilled drinks at a party I threw in college. Facing the realities of details I managed to miss during the celebration literally and figuratively put a damper on things… a red, sticky, irreversible damper.

Make no mistake, I fully support the landmark decision to let gays serve openly in the military and thereby enjoy at least a fraction of the rights that they fight to protect for others. However, my heart hurts for the more than 65,000 youth the Senate let down on the same day by blocking the DREAM Act.

Children who had no choice in coming to the United States, but who have paid the same dues alongside peers in surviving and succeeding in the public school system, continue to be denied the chance to be considered “American” in a country that, for many of them, has been the only one they’ve ever really known.

If the legislation had passed, students and soldiers—not criminals—would have been granted a conditional pathway to citizenship, one that was contingent on completion of a college degree or two years of military service within six years of temporary residency (more than we ask of other citizens).

This bill was not about allowing unrestricted immigration, but acknowledging that youth being punished for the dreams and decisions of their parents deserve rights and opportunities to pursue their own. Right now, it’s hard for me to say I’m proud to be an American when, at the end of the day, the truth is that I’m just lucky to be one.

Click on the link below, select “play episode” and fast-forward to minute 46:34:

JUST ONE THING MISSING: The story of a college student in California with good grades, an excellent work ethic, but no possible way to get a legal job. She’s lived in the U.S. since she was little, but her parents are undocumented; and she is, too. As reported by Douglas McGray on the radio program This American Life (“Nice Work if You Can Get It,” Apr. 6, 2007).

Christmas Presen[ce]

When stretching my spine in a 105°F room recently, it was a little unnerving to discover the only person who kept coming to mind was Bill Clinton circa 1998. My yoga teacher had just revealed the secret to happiness as “Being OK with what IS,” and as much as I wanted to be the person in the room with green tea pumping through her veins, all I could muster in that moment of sweat and silence was Slick Willie’s famous last(ish) words: “It depends on what the meaning of the word is is.”

Even as a child, I had trouble being present and content with my coordinates, as evidenced by the portraits hanging in my parents’ dining room. Although my mom and dad had wanted to capture me and my brothers in a single professionally-taken photograph, I felt my blue velvet dress was born to run and thus forced the man behind the lens to opt for three individual shots instead. The boys were preserved as their most angelic and gentlemanly selves, while I was caught with a “Here’s Johnny” smile and Jack Nicholson hair, straddling a stool and not even partially looking at the camera.

As an adult I’ve learned how to pose better for pictures, but still I walk fast, hold tight, feel claustrophobic during long car rides, and think of what will be for breakfast during dinner. I’m often trying to change what has happened or control what will be, but I find it very difficult to be OK with what IS.

In AA, the serenity prayer begins with the request for God to “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Zen Buddhists recite, “No praise. No blame. Just so.” Therefore, it seems this desire to be OK with what IS is hardly an original thought, blessing, or burden.

After my first exposure to bikram yoga this summer, I remember one particular class in which the instructor reminded us to be gracious with ourselves and not become frustrated when we weren’t able to stretch as far as we wanted or had been able to before. Even though the 26 postures associated with the practice never change, he said “Today, each one will be exactly what you need for it to be and will take you where you need to go.”

What I’ve come to recognize about each of these statements is not the advocation of complacency but presence. It’s not about giving up or giving in, but choosing to take hold of exactly where you are and what you have to learn and love and work with in the moment. Of course it’s easier said than done, but as Rilke writes, “Those tasks that have been entrusted to us are difficult; almost everything serious is difficult; and everything is serious.” I want to be OK with what IS, no matter the meaning of the word.

“Today, this is my border.”

“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.” -Edna St. Vincent Millay

A friend of mine works at a church in town with a congregation that consists mostly of homeless men and women in the Atlanta area. Over the summer, she shared a conversation with me that occurred during a group discussion about one of the psalms. Those in attendance were reading a particular verse that talked about how God grants peace to your borders when one of the men interrupted, pinched his skin and humbly acknowledged, “Today, this is my border.”

So often when we talk about the pursuit of peace, we speak of it as something to protect, obtain, or maintain for a country or particular group of people and lose sight of the fact that it is a challenge we take on as individuals every day: to not only be comfortable with ourselves when life is silent and still, but strong enough to move forward in the midst of uncertainty, crisis and heartache as well. As I wrote on this blog around the same time last year, so easily we forget that whether it’s within ourselves or on a larger scale, peace is something that we make; it requires action. Today, I am asking you to take action.

My heart aches for a dear friend whose twin brother took his life this past weekend after three tours in the Middle East with the U.S. Army. He was suffering from PTSD and insufficient medical care. In spite of spending the bulk of his days in service to the idea of creating and protecting peace for others, his toughest battle was finding peace within himself at home. He, as have many others before him, needed our help in that search.

As a beautiful gesture and testimony to what they believe Toby would have wanted, the Stinson family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to Archi’s Acres Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training program in California. Archi’s Acres is a small-scale organic farm that created its VSAT program to offer returning combat veterans a way to refocus, get back to their roots and adapt their skills to the private sector, or as Mandy puts it, “to help veterans live productive and happy lives after dealing with the horrors of war.” Trainees develop business plans, build resumes and train in hydroponics to transition into agriculture jobs.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Toby, but I am fortunate to know an extension of him through my friendship with Mandy and her parents. I am inspired by their desire to literally turn the hole in the world that Toby’s absence created into a thriving piece of land that will give to so many through both its processing and products. Please join me in honoring Toby Stinson’s life by visiting the home page of Archi’s Acres and clicking the donate button. Peace be with you.

Dear Brayden

You are not old enough to read this now, but I don’t want to grow any older before I write it because as you will learn only a few times less than I hug and kiss you in this life, people are dynamic. Our perspectives and stories are continually changing. The aunt I am now is not the aunt I will be when we both realize our roles have reversed and suddenly you are the one helping me tie my shoestrings. Actually, don’t worry about the shoes then. Just bring me coffee.

Very soon, you will turn two years old when I am on the tail end of my twenties. That means I’ve been on this playground over a quarter century longer than you. You would think that the head start has made me wiser, but my purpose in writing is to share what you have taught me. (As an aside, you should know that my favorite thing you do right now is spontaneously cross your fingers. You don’t know what the gesture means, just that you can do it, so I love to catch you walking around or sitting on the couch with those little digits curled around each other on both hands… willing luck into the world and hoping for the best without even realizing it.)

2010 You

Your influence on my life and the way I hope to keep thinking actually began a couple months before you were born. I had never held a baby or even been in one’s vicinity longer than it took to say “Someone needs to change that child’s diaper,” so I signed up for a Babysitter’s Training class put on by the American Red Cross. I spent a day learning how to take care of the precious cargo that is you with a group of 11- and 12-year-old girls who had far more experience and confidence with babies and mini-mannequins than I did. I still have the certificate. I still don’t change diapers. I learned some valuable lessons that day, but they all seem to pale in comparison to the live-action adventures you’ve shared with me since then.

When We First Met

When I was a newspaper reporter, one of the most important lessons I learned was that I did not need to make a sad story sad or a funny story funny. I just needed to present the story as it was and let the details speak for themselves. Nothing is more powerful than authenticity. For the most part, I grasped that concept when it came to my writing, but you showed me how it applies to people. Adults tend to complicate their relationships by assuming they know what their partner needs when they are upset, but in spite of the thousands of ways we manage to find ourselves in thousands of different messes, the sources of our discomfort largely boil down to one of three things: we are hungry, we aren’t being heard or we just want to be held. The sooner we realize the source of the problem and keep the solution simple, the better friend, sibling, parent, or lover we will be.

In keeping with what your tears have taught me, I never fully understood the power one word could pack until I grabbed a ketchup bottle from you at dinner and uttered “no” to avert disaster, but ended up starting World War III. Or that time I said we would go outside and failed to remember that you operate in present not future tense and “outside” means “now” and “indefinitely.” I remember reading a verse in the Bible once that said, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No,’” but you drove it home for me. Because of time spent with you, I am learning the importance of saying what I mean and meaning what I say. I still struggle with this, but you’re keeping me honest and teaching me how to be a better promise keeper.

I have had a lot of nicknames bestowed upon me in my life and I will make you privy to most of them, but my heart has never melted or been so happy as the first time I heard “Momo” come from you. Even though I do not get to see you every day or as often as I would like, your parents and Grammy have been great about teaching you my name and face with practice and pictures. So much so that we once went to dinner together and you stopped to say “Hey, Momo” multiple times throughout the meal because you were so proud that you recognized me. That act might seem small, Brayden, but sometimes the best thing you can do for people is acknowledge their presence and that you are happy to see them. At times, we all feel forgotten, and that moment still lifts me like few other memories do.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, your addition to this world has served as somewhat of a time machine. When I see you with Grammy and Poppy, who I’ve always known as Mom and Dad, I get to see Susan and Ed as they were when I was too young to fully understand and appreciate the love, care and attention they showed me. You’ll realize the same thing about your parents one day. We are so very lucky, little man. Don’t forget it, and thanks for reminding me.

Beach Buddies, 2009

“How To Be Alone” by Tanya Davis